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"But let's look at what this did for Tommy," Steward says. "You take Sugar Ray Leonard. I guess it had got so he couldn't walk down the street without hearing it: 'When you going to fight Tommy Hearns?' His wife was probably asking him; all his friends and his kids were asking him; they got it from their playmates. He must have woke up in the middle of the night and screamed, Tommy!' And I'll tell you what the sad part is, man. This fight has been building for too long. And a strange thing has taken place. Pay attention now. As Sugar Ray moves along, his fights are getting tougher for him. And as Tommy moves along, his fights are getting easier. Now you tell me who is going to put the hurt on who.
"There was a time when I used to say it'd be a close fight between those two, but no more. Now I got to say to Sugar Ray, 'Forget it, man. If you were going to make a move, you should've done it a lot earlier. It's too late, buddy.' "
With the unified championship and those other titles firmly locked in his mind. Hearns is working hard to rise to his image of them culturally. He wants to be a well-liked champion, maybe even a bit of a boulevardier, like Ray Robinson in his heyday. Hearns wants desperately to be both gracious and glib, to rip off full, flowing sentences without saying 'man' every other word. He wants to be at ease on television, in front of crowds, at Kiwanis luncheons or award banquets—to react quickly and wittily. Byrd, Hearns and many of the other Kronk fighters watch Johnny Carson and do imitations of people on the show for each other the next day. Byrd claims he has memorized every show Carson ever did—and Byrd is smooth and urbane.
The reason Hearns speaks so softly now is that he's easing out the things he wants to say, mumbling the words with his head down, staring at his big hands. His impassive face masks the impish side of Tommy Hearns, and the dreams.
The person working hardest to bring Hearns out of his shell is the most unlikely member of the champ's entourage. A reporter for a suburban Detroit newspaper, Jackie Kallen came to do a story on Hearns in 1978 and just sort of stayed on. Now she's the staff publicist. Kallen is in her 30s, white, the mother of two; an expensively disheveled blonde with a fly-away hairstyle and an amazing wardrobe of what appear to be Phyllis Diller castoffs. She is an inveterate deal-maker on Hearns' behalf, even to his shirts and the smallest of items—and it seems safe to say the day that Tommy buys anything at retail, a giant thunderclap will wipe out Detroit.
It's Kallen who is patiently leading Hearns into the world of sophistication. More than anyone else around him, she appreciates the boxer's dilemma: society expects a fighter to be an unleashed savage in the ring and then, after showering, to become Cary Grant. In that regard Hearns is proving to be a quick study, taking in everything with those heavy eyes. "I've never seen anyone so eager to learn, anyone who wants so much to do the right thing socially at all times," Kallen says. On one recent trip to shop for formal wear, Hearns stood agonizing for a long time over a selection of tuxedos in midnight blue, in gray and in burgundy. "So he bought all three," Kallen says proudly.
Hearns' evening wear in hand, Kallen came up with an inspired gift—a present she brought back from a New York trip. Hearns is now probably the only boxer in any weight class who carries his gear—dirty socks, cups, jock, tape and trunks—in a Gucci gym bag. Of such things are sophisticates made.
Nobody in Detroit knows this, but Kallen also found a private tutor for Hearns, though she is quick to point out that this isn't a welterweight road show of Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. "The tutor isn't for the basic stuff like reading and writing," she says, "but for the niceties in life; those little things that you don't learn when you're fighting your way out of the ghetto. Like maintaining steady eye-contact with someone when you're talking. And smiling a lot. Or always remembering to say an interviewer's name over and over again on television. You know, 'I'm glad to be here on your show, Bryant Gumbel,' or Thank you very much. Mister Schenkel.' It always makes the interviewer feel important, and you get asked back. And Tommy desperately wants to talk right."
Kallen concedes that until she got full control recently, things had not always been done so classily. Hearns posed for the December 1980 cover of The Ring magazine in a gangster rig, complete with slouch hat and machine gun, that played off his Motor City Hit Man image, a nickname that Hearns is now trying to put behind him. After the second Leonard-Roberto Duran fight, Hearns appeared uninvited at the press conference and, on cue from Steward, threw a rubber chicken on the floor at Leonard's feet. It was supposed to draw delighted chuckles from the press—but didn't. "We don't want to look that gauche again," Kallen says.
As Hearns has progressed fistically, sartorially and socially, so has his financial standing. He received a $500,000 purse for the championship bout with Cuevas and has another $500,000 payday coming up on the 25th of this month, when he meets fifth-ranked Randy Shields in Phoenix. Not too long ago Kallen accompanied Hearns to a Chevy dealership to buy his first Corvette. He enjoyed the experience so much that he went back and bought another one; so now he has a black one and a white one. And on a shopping trip for a new Mercedes—Hearns and Kallen had a $60,000 model in mind—there on the showroom floor, there in all its quiet black-and-silver elegance, they saw a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II.